Describing the ideas and work ethic of immigrants as potential “meal tickets” for the American economy, Mr. Clinton told some wandering anecdotes about Muslims and others who had stood up for Christians and defended their families....I said:
"Meal tickets"? Wouldn't that mean immigrants should work so we natives can get free food? I want to see the text.Apparently the only way to get the text is to transcribe it myself from the video. This is about 4 minutes in:
The third thing the election's about is how are we going to keep America safe and still keep it American, preserve our individual liberties and our reputation for being an open country, our belief in diversity, and our understanding that one of our great meal tickets in the next 20 years is going to be there's somebody here from everywhere else.Clinton goes on to tell an anecdote about a Muslim foiling a robbery, so there's no explanation of that "meal ticket" concept. The original meaning of "meal ticket" is, according to the OED, quite literal: a ticket that entitles you to a meal. The figurative use is: "a source of subsistence, livelihood, or income; something which ensures prosperity, financial security, etc. Often implying some form of cynical exploitation, etc., as in a relationship in which one partner lives off the earnings of the other."
Did Bill Clinton simply misuse the term? Before I found the whole quote, when I was reading the NYT, I had the theory that perhaps Bill Clinton had let slip the real reason why the elite class in this country favors ample immigration: They want to take advantage of the willingness of newcomers from dismal places to work hard for low wages. We can actually live off their hard work. The plan is cynical exploitation.
But my transcription blows up that theory. It wasn't about hard work and immigration, but the value of diversity. It's just wonderful that we are "an open country" and there will be people here from everywhere. It's a rather mushy celebration of diversity, and, in that context, I think he used "meal tickets" to mean "benefits" — just something great that we have. He didn't develop the idea.
Transcribing the sentence, I was aware of how long and unstructured it was. I've seen discussions of Donald Trump that say that he speaks "on a 6th grade level" — as if spoken word is the same as writing — and it made me wonder about Bill Clinton. I put the transcribed sentence into a reading-ease calculator and was shocked to see that it came out at the 28.1 grade level. What?! It's mainly that it's 61 words long. I tried to find a place to break it into 2 or more sentences but couldn't. The conclusion isn't that Bill is brilliant (any more than Donald Trump's short sentences mean that he's dumb). It's that Bill was rambling, perhaps on purpose. He didn't want to overshadow Hillary, and his self-presentation was: happy grandfather.
I put that last paragraph of mine into the reading-ease calculator and was pleased to see that I came out on a 5.6 grade level. My Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease was 80.5 out of 100 (100 being most readable). Bill Clinton's sentence is rated 5.9, which seems awfully unreadable and it wasn't even reading — which you can slow down and redo — it was speaking. I put in some text from Donald Trump's "Face the Nation" interview, and it was at the 4.1 grade level, with a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 83.
Bonus: I searched the NYT archive for the phrase "meal ticket" and collected this diverse array.
"When a Bedbug Find Is a Dog’s Main Meal Ticket" (November 11, 2010):
In some cases, dogs are fed only when they signal the presence of bedbugs. A natural question arises: wouldn’t that give the dog an incentive to give a false alert?..."Academic Protege Or Meal Ticket?" (September 8, 1985):
If the established professoriate is to keep the groves of academe green until their own retirement, they need students — to bring tuition money to their institutions, to populate their courses, especially majors and graduate students to oversee. Otherwise, they will be assigned remedial and introductory courses, or may even be retrained to teach computer science...."Delightful Hubbel: 'The Meal Ticket'" (May 31, 1981):
In my book, ''The Meal Ticket'' was one of the greatest, along with Walter Johnson and Christy Matthewson. Anderson writes about Carl's ''most memorable performance,'' in striking out Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons and Cronin in a row...."Freedom of Press 'Not a Meal Ticket'; Grove Patterson Urges Campaign to Tell People Liberty Is for Their Good, Not Editors'" (October 19, 1937):
Grove Patterson, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, urged today "a campaign of education through which the average American citizen can be convinced that this freedom of the press, of which he hears so much, is not a meal ticket for editors but life itself for him and this nation."
"[T]he average citizen thinks many newspapers do not treat him well... [T]he average citizen thinks the freedom of the press is merely a privilege editors seek for their own profitable enjoyment.... I fear Mr. Average Citizen thinks of the right of freedom of the press as a right that journalists are forever worrying about and of which, in his opinion, they already have too much."